Growing new leaders

One of our tasks as leaders is to identify and grow the next generation that will lead on the technical decisions of the company. This is not easy for new managers who still try to do everything themselves or only focus on the technical side without thinking about the persons they work with.

Identify new leaders

This is not always easy as innovators are sometimes shy and don’t like to get additional attention or share publicly what they have done, thinking it is not that important. We should be curious and spend time meeting people to learn who they are (what they like doing, hobbies, …) and understand what they are working on, the challenges they are facing and see if other team has already done something to improve it. We can also look which persons are delivering faster (as they may have better processes, prepared some tooling or simply be passionate about what they do) and those who usually like to help others (as they may get innovative ideas from talking to different people).

Motivate them

Each person is different and react to different stimulus (new opportunities to learn, recognition, career progression…) and it is part of our role to detect what triggers them. We can also tell them why it is important to do something new, how it will fit in the current processes, how it will make an impact, what opportunities will offer them, what is specially cool about it, etc. We can also praise what they do publicly, allow them to expose what they have learned to other teams, include them on new innovation teams or forums, etc.

It is also important to ensure that those who are self-motivated don’t get frustrated due to lack of recognition, unfair promotion processes or blockers. Real leaders who have a clear idea of what they want will fight to get it implemented even if they have to go through a number of obstacles, but they may decide to look for opportunities on another company if they feel their efforts are not appreciated or it is too painful to get anything done due to excessive regulation.

Offer fair opportunities to learn and experiment

Some people would be great at experimenting and learning but they are so good at some tasks that their managers keep flooding them with more of the same, and they don’t have time to look at anything else. We should allocate equal time for everyone in the team to learn and experiment with new stuff even if non-urgent projects are delivered a bit later. Invest in your people and you will probably gain more in the long term with more engaged colleagues, better ways of working that save time and with better results overall.

Delegate all types of tasks

Your team may work very well when you are with them but would they thrive if you are on holidays for a few weeks or change jobs? Would they be able to do everything you do or there are certain tasks that only you know how to do? And sure, you may have provided them training or documented how they are done, but do they actually have hands-on experience on them? It is usually good to delegate all type of tasks, specially the ones you feel you are the best one who can do them, so they get experience and ask questions.

Invite them to discussions

You probably know who to contact from other teams or departments but those working with you may not know them. So, it is good to invite them to the meetings so they start knowing each other and feel comfortable calling each other when needed. Soon they will know more about the technical details than yourself as they will be closer to the code, they may provide better ideas than you, and you will be able to focus on other types of meetings. Also being part of these meetings will help them understand better what they are working on and the rationale behind certain decisions.

Encourage them to talk and lead in group and team meetings

Avoid being the one always taking and bringing solutions, ask them instead open questions so they propose ideas. This way they will feel more independent and comfortable proposing ideas and taking decisions when you are not available, and they will also understand better the challenges of what they are working on and why it has been designed that way.

Let them struggle

We usually learn more when we struggle figuring out how to solve a challenge. When we see them taking long on a task or struggling to complete it, it is tempting to jump in and start helping or doing it ourselves. Instead, we can give them some time to experiment and ask how they are approaching the problem to understand their thoughts and ask questions that may make them think about new ways to face it.

Give feedback the right way

We should pay attention to the morale of the team and keeping their self-confidence, and at the same time we should provide constructive feedback that allows them work better or correct issues. Any feedback should be constructive and ideally discussed in private instead of in front of the team. We should also pay attention on our emotional status to provide it when both are calmed and they are receptive.

Know and understand their personal circumstances

Sometimes people go through difficult circumstances (losing a beloved one, their kids being sick, being worried about losing the job…) and this may stress them and act or react in ways they wouldn’t do in other moments. E.g. they may be defensive to feedback, not be able to focus or take incorrect decisions. At that point it is important to pause and understand what is going on, how we would feel if we were on their situation, and reassure we are on their side. This will hopefully help give us empathy, reduce their stress and show them what to do when they manage teams in the future.

Rafael Borrego

Consultant and security champion specialised in Java, with experience in architecture and team management in both startups and big corporations.

Disclaimer: the posts are based on my own experience and may not reflect the views of my current or any previous employer

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